Camp Randall Stadium hasn't been the same in a few years, with the Badgers losing nine of their last 11 Big Ten games at home. The atmosphere inside the stadium Saturday afternoon was a far cry from what it was a couple of years ago.
The fans are not to blame for that. When given something to cheer about, they've been as alive as ever. But in the Badgers' 37-20 loss against Illinois Saturday, there was a noticeable lack of passion and emotion on the field from start to finish.
There are a number of theories as to why that's happened. Many point to the three off-the field incidents involving Badger captains as a major distraction that contributed to the poor on-field performance. Others speculate Wisconsin is short on talent and leadership.
"I would say attitude and intensity. Everybody has to pick it back up and get back to where we were before," said sophomore strong safety Jim Leonhard.
Senior Al Johnson met with the media following the game, saying he couldn't legally tell his side of the story about his off-the-field incident yet, but was "confident it will all be resolved."
Johnson said the off-the-field distractions had nothing to do with the failure to make plays on the field Saturday.
"The team wasn't really flat," Johnson said. "I didn't see it out there. I saw guys into it, I saw guys playing hard and all signs showed that they were into it mentally and weren't distracted."
The Badgers squandered a golden opportunity to become bowl eligible against a 3-6 Illinois team that hadn't won on the road all season. Instead, there was a mass exodus leaving Camp Randall Stadium long before the game was over, and another wave of criticism towards a program that appears to be spinning its wheels.
There have been many comments in the aftermath of this loss, that it appeared UW wasn't focused and played like a distracted team.
But the players in the locker room swear that is not the case.
"I thought we were ready to play," said quarterback Jim Sorgi. "We're all going to keep our heads up, we're going to keep our chest out…I don't think this team is ready to pack it in. I truly don't. If I got that hint, I would probably say something, but we're not ready to pack it in. We have two games left (and) we want to go to a bowl game. This team wants to get that extra practice, we want to go to a bowl game. We want to have fun and play football."
After the game, several players mentioned they felt this team is every bit as good as it was at 5-0. But unless the Badgers pull off an upset at Michigan or at home against Minnesota, they will be home for the holidays once again.
Senior Jake Sprague said that thought hasn't crossed his mind.
"I'm not going to accept that we're going to sit home," Sprague said. "We have two games left and we can win both of them. I think it's real possible."
Sprague feels the prospects of facing a familiar nemesis, Michigan, will help spring new life into the locker room this week.
"Guys around here are always able to get charged up for Michigan," Sprague said. "I think that will be a big help, who we are playing next. We know this is it. We have to win the rest of our games. There is nothing to hold back. We just have to leave it on the field and play our hardest football right now."
Unfortunately, the time to do just that was this afternoon, and the Badgers let a must-win game slip through their fingers.
Have the Badgers Packed it In?
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